Developers outline vision for former Woodstock Middle School

by | Oct 5, 2022

Plans include repurposing school into 30-to-36-unit apartment building and construction of new 20-unit building

Representatives of two Toronto-based development companies shared their plans to turn the former Woodstock Middle School and surrounding property into a pair of apartment buildings at a well-attended open house on Tuesday evening, Oct. 4.

Blair Martin, a native New Brunswicker, and Luckshanan (Lucky) Balakrishnan of Belleterre Real Estate Properties Ltd and Emmett Properties Group Inc. respectively hosted the open house at the AYR Motor Centre Gallery room, offering their vision for the former school property at the corner of Green and Elm Streets.

Beginning with a PowerPoint presentation of their preliminary plans for the property, Martin and Balakrishnan fielded several questions from an intrigued audience.

Martin explained the developer’s plans, especially surrounding the repurposing of the school, remain in the early stages, but they set a clear path forward.

He explained the plan calls for the construction of a new 20-unit apartment building on the site of the existing outdoor basketball court. Martin said the structure would be almost identical to the building he recently completed in Miramichi.
Balakrishnan said that because the new building is similar to Martin’s Miramichi project, the design is already in place, and Belleterre is ready to start building “as soon as we can.”

He said the plan also includes renovating the former school into an apartment complex featuring 30 to 36 apartment units.
Balakrishnan said he and Martin advised the town about potentially including a daycare on the school’s main floor, but the plan needs further discussion.

The two businessmen acknowledged remediation of the school would be a significant undertaking but believe it could be repurposed.
Martin said they had already received a quote on the remediation, but they would continue to search for lower quotations. He complained about the lack of available contractors to carry out such work in New Brunswick but believes the work, while strictly regulated, could be handled by a local firm.

Martin said asbestos removal is always challenging but cites the extensive mould problem as the biggest issue.
He said the old school is sound structurally, and its layout works well to repurpose it as an apartment complex.
Balakrishnan acknowledged the redevelopment faces an additional hurdle as the old school’s chimney is home to chimney swifts, which are on the endangered species list.

He said regulations don’t allow the destruction of the bird’s habitat, but “we’re looking at creative ways” to address the situation and keep the unique nesting habits part of the area’s appeal.

The developers shared a potential timeline for the new building and school renovation but acknowledged plans are still preliminary.
Martin expects to start the removal of hazardous waste from the school in April 2023. He also responded to concerns raised about the risk of such an operation to the surrounding neighbourhood by noting all dangerous materials are in the building’s interior, and crews would carefully follow protocols surrounding packaging and removing the hazardous materials.

The developers plan to begin constructing the new apartment building around June 2023, with completion by June 2024. They tentatively hope to complete the repurposing of the school by November 2024 but need experts to examine the school to finalize a deadline.

The two developers faced several questions from the audience on hand, providing what Martin determined as “honest” answers.
Martin acknowledged the developers purchased the property from the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure for a $10,000 price.

“The phenomenal deal was not that phenomenal,” he said.
Martin said he understood the town considered pursuing ownership of the property but realized the cost of demolishing the school could range from $700,000 to $1 million.

He also responded to concerns that the price tag for repurposing the school could make it infeasible.
While that potential exists, Martin admitted, the town already faced the problem of an aging empty building. He added that Belleterre would only have purchased the school believing in the plan to refurbish it.

Many of those in attendance addressed the project’s impact on the neighbourhood, including traffic and aesthetics.
“It’s going to affect the value of our property, and it’ll affect our way of life,” said Emily Clark, who lives next to the school.
Martin suggested the traffic problem would not match that of a school. He added the development would meet all parking requirements under the zoning bylaw.

He also said the developer planned to keep the existing charm of the old school, drawing huge applause for their commitment to maintaining the building’s unique foyer with its two stairways.
While acknowledging long-term plans could include further development, Balakrishnan said the project would see the entire property landscaped and maintained.

Martin said it would also allow its continued use by pedestrians as a shortcut, noting the current well-worn path would most likely be a sidewalk of some type.

While landscaping the property, Martin dismissed the creation of a park.
“We’re not going to open space for the town for us to own and operate,” he said.
Martin and Balakrishnan explained both the new building and refurbished school would include 10 apartments under the province’s affordable housing program. The rest of the apartments would be market value.

Martin said the new building would offer studio and one and two-bedroom units. He said the school could potentially include some three-bedroom units.

The tentative price points range from a monthly rent of $700 to $1,070 for affordable units and $819 to $1,485 for market units. He said any apartment could be an affordable unit, with the provincial program subsidizing the rent.
Most of those attending the open house appeared pleased with Martin’s and Balakrishnan’s responses to their questions. Those supporting or opposing the project will have another opportunity to address their concerns.

Woodstock CAO Andrew Garnett said the developer’s plan would go before the planning advisory committee on Oct. 17 for a recommendation to council. He added the town would host a public hearing on the rezoning on Oct. 25, which would provide an opportunity for the public to issue a written statement or advise the town they wished to deliver a verbal presentation.

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